DANGERS OF UNDERAGE DRINKING OF ALCOHOL IN NIGERIA
ICISAT Joins the rest of the world in celebrating the World Drug Day today the 26th June 2021. The rising trend of substance use and abuse is a thing of concern for all stakeholders. This is further compounded by adverts that target the most vulnerable in society, the Youth, especially Adolescents. For us in this part of the world, the availability of alcohol and the seeming encouraging adverts for underage drinking should be condemned by all. While we appreciate the freedom to advertise, such media content should be vetted by an informed regulatory body to minimize the initiation into alcohol use amongst our most vulnerable groups based on incomplete facts.
Alcohol is a psychoactive toxic substance that is colourless, odorless, volatile flammable liquid that depresses (reduces or slows) the activities of the central nervous system. Ethyl alcohol is the main alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. Some common alcoholic drinks include; Whisky, Vodka, Rum, Barandy, Gin, Wine, Champagne, Cognac, Beer, Burukutu, Pito, Palm wine, Ogogoro etc. Underage drinking is the consumption of alcohol by persons younger than 21 years old. Most countries accept the legal minimum age for drinking alcohol to be 18 years with a few going for as early as 15 years, while many are pushing for raising this age to 21 years old. ICISAT believes that the legal minimum age for drinking alcohol should be as high as 25 years for very obvious and scientific reasons.
Firstly, the human brain is not fully developed until age 25 years and alcohol has been found to affect almost all organs of the body including the brain and could stall or alter the process of development for the brain.
Adolescents or young adults do not need to drink alcohol heavily to increase risk of negative consequences. Early use of alcohol by teenagers before brain is fully developed can affect the proper development of the area responsible for decision making and impulse control. Female adolescents are at greater risk because they have less body fluid and alcohol may exact its effect more for them even when they use the same amount of alcohol as their male counterparts.
Adolescents are less sedated by alcohol than adults, this means they may need to take more (Binge drinking) for this effect to take place – thereby putting them at greater dangers of its effect. Binge Drinking (taking many glasses of alcohol in quick succession in one sitting) leads to more negative consequences that are for adults e.g blackouts (loss of memory from the event), unplanned, unsafe and unwanted sexual activity, accidents and driving under the influence. Some consequences of underage drinking – i.e below age 21 years, correlated with violence, risky sexual behaviors, poor school performance, suicide, other harmful behaviors and high peer Influence among others. The emotional areas of the brain mature before the frontal cortex- as reveled by the sensation and thrill-seeking, risky and impulsive decision making by Adolescents. Adolescent brains respond to promises of rewards and to threat more than adults, this means they are likely to pay more attention to their peers and likely to act without considering consequences.
ICISAT believes that the use of alcohol before age 25 years, will definitely place these young people at the risk of sudden and aggravated inappropriate physical, emotional and lifestyle changes that are key during the developmental transitions at puberty while the brain is still developing, thereby affecting the following areas of the brain as a result:
THE CEREBRAL CORTEX/PREFRONTAL CORTEX, (for higher or complex brain functions that concern memory, language and consciousness) not fully developed in Adolescents until age 25 years. Low levels of alcohol can result in negative effects on planning, organizing, managing time, paying attention and inhibiting inappropriate behaviors. A problem because most Adolescents begin alcohol use, which is likely to damage these developing brain cells. Adolescents are highly sensitive to the permeable effects of alcohol than adults – leading to more use by adolescents. Since obvious effects like slurring words, losing balance or feeling sleepy is felt less by Adolescents compared to Adults, the likelihood of engaging in dangerous use or overuse of alcohol by Adolescents is usually high.THE HIPPOCAMPUS (Memory and Learning).
The most serious alcohol related brain damage affects the hippocampus more for adolescents than adults because the brain is still developing. Adolescents brain are more sensitive to alcohol toxicity and vulnerable to cell death than adults. The hippocampus have been shown to grow smaller in adolescents who drink alcohol compare to those who do not.
THE CEREBELLUM (Balance, coordination & memory formation).
Alcohol drinking inhibits major functions and slows reaction time – more so in the Adolescents. Adolescents’ binge drinking has been associated to changes in the cerebellum. Binge drinking even if done periodically is still dangerous and could lead to dependence.
HYPOTHALAMUS (Coordinate release of hormones).
This area helps coordinate our body’s response to stress by influencing the release of hormones in preparation for the “flight or fight” response. This function is not fully mature for the Adolescents. Alcohol use by the Adolescents can suppress normal hormonal responses to stress, heavy use of alcohol during Adolescent can result in long lasting changes in how the system responds to stress during adulthood.
MEDULLA (Breathing & Heartbeat).
The possibility of impairment in breathing and heartbeat for the Adolescents is higher and more dangerous because they may not feel the negative effects of alcohol like adults, thus are tempted to use more in a short time (Binge drinking). Heavy drinking has been found to slow down activation in the center.
Nigeria is ranked the 27th globally in Adult alcohol use (15+) and one of the leading African countries in alcohol consumption in liters/year, this excludes locally produce alcoholic drinks that are available and sold freely in most parts of the country. Most worrisome is its availability for use by underage persons in most communities and in institutions of higher learning. One quarter (1/4) of the Adult population in Nigeria used alcohol in their lifetime. Among 40% who reported occasional alcohol use, one third (1/3) of men and 15% of the women said they used alcohol almost daily over the past 12 months, while men reported binge drinking more than women (UNODC, 2018)
Those who begin drinking before age 15 are far more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who begin use at age 21 years or stand a 40% chance of becoming alcoholics compare to a 7% chance by those who start at age 21 years; are also 12 times likely to result in unintentional injury under the influence; 7 times more likely to be in a motor accident; 10 times likely to engage in physical fights after drinking and more likely to carry a weapon than a non-drinker.
LEGAL DRINKING AGE AROUND THE WORLD
1 Country → Age 15
14 Countries → Age 16
1 Country → Age 17
69 Countries → Age 18
5 Countries → Age 20
20 Countries → Age 21 (e.g. U.S.A; Egypt; Ivory Coast)
17 Countries → Alcohol prohibition (total Ban)
96 Countries → No minimum age (Nigeria inclusive)
(WHO, 2005 → Public health problems cause by harmful use of alcohol.)
Underage drinking is dangerous but communities promote aggressive adverts while many regard alcohol use as a normal part of growing up. We need to learn from New Zealand, who lowered age of drinking to 18 years, and alcohol-related crashes rose by 12% for ages 18-19 years, 14% for ages 15-17 years. (Kypri et al, 2006). While in U.S.A = All state that increased minimum legal drinking age to 21years saves over 100 to 1000 lives yearly.
Alcohol use by all is obviously a public health issue, more so for the teenagers/adolescents especially in Nigeria where there is no documented legal age for alcohol drinking, but very serious and aggressive adverts abound on radios and bill boards encouraging teenage and adolescent use of alcohol. As a Country, we need to take a stand, identify and agree on a reasonable legal minimum drinking age (MLDA) while increasing penalty for violation of same. Reduce community tolerance for alcohol use by the youth. Reduce production which influences and provides opportunities that served the youth. Address social pressure to drink, teach resistance skills and set norms. Encourage clear family based programmes that set clear rules and enforce those rules among others.
ICISAT acknowledges the efforts of the Advertising Practitioner’s Council of Nigeria (APCON) in regulating adverts especially on alcoholic bevearages but calls on her to remind advertisers of the need to do same within the law. The recent adverts on bill boards and radios encouraging age 18 to think they are ripe to use alcohol is misleading and targeting our most vulnerable group who should be focusing on making choices that will shape their future positively. As we celebrate this year’s world drug day, ICISAT calls on all to pay attention to the younger generation and protect them from this lethal, deathly yet legal social drug, “alcohol” whose destructive ability is easily overlooked by many to the detriment of healthy communities.
Gloria S Karuri Ph.D.
• National Academy of Science (2004)
Alcohol & the Adolescent Brain Immediate impairment of long term consequences.
• Substance abuse and underage drinking prevention and treatment task force (2016).
Karuri, G. S (2019) (Ed).
• Handbook of Psychoactive and Performance Enhancement Substances. Jos. Nigeria.
• World Health Organization, (WHO,2010). Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Geneva: WHO Press.
• United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2017): National drug use survey, Nigeria.
• Obot. I. S. (2015). Africa faces a growing threat from neo-colonial alcohol marketing .
Addiction, 110(9), n1371-2